What's it like to drive?
It was only 10 minutes into my journey home in the Focus RS when I noticed the Audi RS3 in the rear view mirror driven by somebody I can only describe as Korean Elvis. I was darting through peak hour traffic and so was he, keeping right behind me. He wanted to play. It’s the curse of driving a car which screams 'race me.'
Drift mode. It’s a victory over the fun police.
Thing is, I knew how much pain Korean Elvis was in. The RS3’s suspension is so brutally firm and our big city road surfaces are so bad that every pot hole feels like a nuclear bomb going off underneath you.
Not the case with the Focus RS. Sure it doesn’t have the cushiony ride of a Focus Trend, but you can still absolutely live with it. Those optional low-profile Michelins ‘feel’ the road in great detail, which also means they have a habit of following grooves in the road, but they are matched so well with the suspension that the result is a firm but absorbent ride that isn’t going to have you putting it up for sale on our website a week after buying it.
That suspension can also be softened thanks to adjustable dampers when you select the Normal driving mode. The other modes Sport, Track and Drift, which stiffen up the suspension for sharper handling, add weight to the steering, and as you step up to the final two, loosen the traction control leash to give you more freedom to slide – in the right setting of course.
Yup, you're read right. Drift mode. It’s a victory over the fun police, and the actual police. How it works is clever. When Drift mode is selected the car’s computer examines the driver’s steering inputs and will allow the car to slide, but will jump in if it predicts a loss of control. Electronic stability control remains on the entire time. Of course, unless you pay to shut down an entire street like Ken Block, drifting should be done on a skid pan or track.
Another win is how light the clutch is, and how easy that manual gearbox is to use. That first night home in the traffic – Korean Elvis aside – was spent dancing constantly with that clutch and it’s as close to perfect as you’ll find with a low take-up point, and shifts that just find their way home happily.
You’ll see that people online are complaining about the Focus RS’s turning circle, and it’s true 11.8m isn’t good – and that’s two turns lock-to-lock. Streets in my test route that normally take a text-book three points to turn around in took up to five in the RS. It’d be a disaster if the clutch and shifting wasn’t so easy. Even the placement of the gear stick is ergonomically spot-on, so it lands right in your palm when you drop your arm down.
Those 19-inch wheels wouldn’t be helping the turning circle, but also remember that the RS3 doesn’t do much better at 10.9m and the BMW M2 with 19-inch rims has a turning circle of 11.7m.
The steering itself is on the heavier side but accurate, particularly in Sport mode.
And then there’s the acceleration – 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds. A new Porsche 911 with a manual gearbox can do it in 4.6 seconds but it's $150,000 more. The 911 also doesn’t have all-wheel drive or four doors, while only children fit comfortably in the back seats, there’s also next to no boot space and it comes with the constant fear that you’ll return to it after a nice dinner and find some arse has run a key down the side.
The RS is just a lairy looking Focus – or so people will think. To most people that’s just what it looks like and you’ll appear to be an overgrown teenager who thinks they’re Ken Block and has hooned up their Ford Focus with spoilers and plasticy bits.
But to those that know – like Korean Elvis – the Focus RS is not a lairy looking Focus. Under that skin is a very different animal with outstanding handling and agility – worthy of the RS badge.
I didn’t get to drive the RS on a racetrack this time around, but I did get to blast through a wet, twisting, semi-rural backroad in the dead of night and it performed beautifully. Balanced, surefooted with so much grunt under your foot the entire time. My 2002 Holden Monaro with its 5.7 litre V8 could only manage 225kW; this is a Ford Focus, with 270kW! And it’s all far more manageable thanks to the all-wheel drive.
That hot-four engine note is brilliant and the crackle and pop from the exhaust is addictive – and can be made louder and more aggro through the different drive modes.
No, the interior isn’t special – apart from those Recaro seats. And no, the Recaro seats don’t have a height adjustment which leaves you feeling way too high up, but the athletic ability of this car makes these small issues fade away. Besides, you could always get somebody at Ford to look at the seats and see what can be done to adjust them.
So, what was painful about the experience? Smashing my knee on the dashboard’s air vents every time I climbed out. I have the same issue with a regular Focus – the dash board design sees the section which meets the door swoop down. It looks great but my knees hate it.